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Grey Park, which lies between Ridge and Maple avenues alongside Main Street, has long been underused, says Belen Ayestern of the Evanston Parks Coalition. The Coalition hopes to change that.
A plan seeking City Council buy-in for the redevelopment of the park first came through the Human Services Committee on June 6. The measure, authorizing EPC to claim City approval of the process, allowed the coalition to continue with a plan to conduct a “visioning” and “place-making” study of the park, bringing together a diverse group that included neighbors, the City and everyone who uses the park.
The study, once funds have been raised to pay for it, will be conducted by the Project for Public Spaces, a New York-based group that specializes in revitalizing underused public spaces. The Park’s first major fundraising and public awareness event, the Food Truck Festival on June 26, was by all accounts a smashing success with most vendors selling out and the park full of people for the first time in recent memory.
Ms. Ayestern says she believes that many different groups of people can share Grey Park, adding that the Food Truck Festival proved that.
Many residents Albany Care, a 417-bed intermediate-care facility for the “treatment and recovery of individuals suffering from chronic mental illnesses,” use the park, which is directly across the street.One challenge in redeveloping Grey Park is to make the park inviting to all residents, including those at Albany Care.
Another challenge is the busy streets that border two edges of the park. The western edge runs along Ridge Avenue, one of the busiest roadways in the City. Traffic, including two routes’ worth of busses, is a constant. Main Street to the south is also very busy.
The EPC and Ms. Ayestern do not shy away from the challenges. Instead they prefer to meet them head-on. Materials prepared by Ms. Ayestern and provided to Council present a goal of “layering users, bringing together many constituencies” including students and Albany Care residents through amenities such as a water feature, a food kiosk, chess or other game tables, and a playground that takes advantage of the park’s rolling hills.
As for the busy streets, Ms. Ayestern said she thought the park should serve as a gateway to the Main Street shopping area and the transportation district just a couple of blocks to the east. Main Street commuters would be able to enjoy a revitalized Grey Park, she said.
The east-facing stone amphitheater is rarely used. The EPC envisions concerts, such as the Starlight Concert Series, or movies, using either the existing structure or a renovated version. A small garden near the southeast corner is managed by volunteer residents of Albany Care, clients of Center for Independent Futures and other community volunteers.
The visioning process will “create a vision, a concept and an action plan for the revitalization of Evanston’s Grey Park,” according to material submitted by the Project for Public Spaces. It would seem that all options are on the table.
Ms. Ayestern says she views the park as the legacy of Charles Grey, the Evanston benefactor who gave the City the land for the park and is also credited with the initial donation needed to build Evanston’s first public library. In 1925, according to the library’s website, Mr. Grey donated the painting “At the Fountain” by William Bouguereau to the Library, where the painting hung until it was sold at auction for nearly one million dollars in 1999.
Ms. Ayestern says she feels that the park that bears Mr. Grey’s name should become a more fitting tribute to his legacy as a patron of both the arts and of public spaces. She is doing everything she can to make that a reality.